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THE KITES

A rich and layered love story that begins in innocence and moves through hardship toward a broad humanity.

Hero of the French Resistance, diplomat, and two-time recipient of the Prix Goncourt under two different pen names, Gary (1914-1980; The Life Before Us, 1975, etc.) examines the fates of young love, naiveté, and idealism in his final novel, set in France during World War II and being published in English for the first time.

Ludo Fleury, an orphan raised in Normandy by his eccentric kite-building uncle Ambrose, suffers like the rest of his family from "an excess of memory." As a boy he falls desperately in love with a Polish nobleman's daughter, the beautiful and spirited Lila de Bronicki. Ludo visits the Bronicki estate in Poland ("a country accustomed to being reborn from its own ashes"), discusses politics with Lila’s brother, and competes with her German cousin Hans and a musical prodigy named Bruno for her affection. But war is looming, and the lives of all five become inexorably entangled in it. Gary, a Lithuanian Jew whose real name was Roman Kacew and whose life story reads more like fiction, writes with knowledge and empathy about occupied France and the struggle of ordinary people to resist. " 'Sensible' men...printed and distributed papers in which they spoke of 'immortality,' a word they employed frequently, despite the fact that they were always the first to die." The Fleurys' neighbor, a famous chef accused of collaborating, insists that just by setting foot in his restaurant, "any German with a shred of sense...can see he's dealing with supremacy, with historical invincibility." Ludo sustains himself with detailed memories of his time with Lila, though a fellow Resistance fighter warns him that when he sees her again she will have changed: "Even ideas stop resembling themselves when they're embodied." Gary's nuanced story avoids easy dichotomies. Ludo can't shake the idea that "the Nazis were human. And what was human about them was their inhumanity." Finding a dying German soldier, he thinks at first he recognizes the man, then realizes "what was familiar to me was the expression of suffering...German or French, in those moments, it's interchangeable."

A rich and layered love story that begins in innocence and moves through hardship toward a broad humanity.

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2655-4

Page Count: 375

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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